Making and Commemorating History: Traditions at Gettysburg College

Students on the First Year Walk walking through Soldiers National Cemetery
Entering the National Cemetery during the First-Year Walk with the Class of 2022 in August 2018.

We are more than just a college campus. We are on the frontlines of history.

Traditions lie at the heart of every great community. The act of passing along customs to each new class of students has always been an essential part of the Gettysburg College community.

Each year, Gettysburgians share unique experiences that are rich in history and incite pride in our College and town, including more than a dozen events, programs, and gatherings from the First-Year Walk during Orientation to Servo Thanksgiving.

First-Year Walk: Step into life on campus

One of the most memorable and earliest traditions at Gettysburg College is the First-Year Walk. This event takes place during Orientation—a week-long period that allows first-year students to get acclimated before classes begin and engage in programming that aids in their transition into college life.

The first-years, along with their Resident Assistants (also known as RAs) and Orientation student leaders gather together in Christ Chapel on campus before taking the journey to the National Cemetery. While these students learn about the history of the event in the chapel, the rest of the town and upperclass students start to line the streets, anxiously waiting to cheer them on and hand out goodies.

When the Glatfelter Hall bells chime, first-year students start the half-mile walk to the cemetery to listen to President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, commemorating the same journey taken back in 1863 by college students and community members. As a first-year, you will hear words of encouragement, see the new faces of your community smiling with enthusiasm, and experience an eerie, but powerful silence as you enter the cemetery.

Personally, this was one of my favorite traditions because the walk exposes you to new friends, and the amount of Gettysburg pride that you feel that day will stay with you well past graduation.

Students eating thanksgiving dinner at Servo Thanksgiving
2019 Servo Thanksgiving.

Servo Thanksgiving: When family tradition becomes Gettysburg custom

As you settle into classes at Gettysburg College, and the fall begins to take hold, students start to eagerly anticipate Thanksgiving. Servo, our main dining hall on campus, hosts a Thanksgiving feast every year for students.

While the dining hall itself does not open till 4:30 p.m. on that day, students will begin lining up at 6 a.m. Friend groups—including those in sports teams and organizations—camp out all day so that they can be the first to carve the turkey. Upon entering, groups are assigned a table where they receive every Thanksgiving food imaginable: unlimited turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and more.

The best part is that your professors, and even the president of the College, serves you your meal! This tradition is some students’ favorite because it allows them to enjoy great food while creating new holiday memories with their “family” at college.

Students gathered around a table and eating food outdoors
2019 International Food Fest.

International Food Festival and Midnight Madness: Fun with friends and food

Gettysburg College students love their food—it’s no wonder we’re ranked No. 9 for Best Campus Food by the Princeton Review. Two other food-centric traditions include the International Food Festival and Midnight Madness.

International Food Fest is a new tradition at Gettysburg sponsored by the Campus Activities Board (CAB). This usually occurs in the fall, and the entire campus dines on international cuisine and other treats on a street carnival-themed Lincoln Avenue.

Midnight Madness, or Mid Mad for short, occurs once a month, and is also sponsored by CAB and Servo. Running from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., students have access to late-night treats in the dining hall, including nachos, doughnuts, and more. Additionally, students can partake in some fun entertainment by singing karaoke or chatting with friends at group tables.

Springfest: A joyous end-of-semester celebration

Another favorite tradition at Gettysburg College is Springfest. Occurring between classes and finals, this is a weekend of celebration, where students commemorate the end of the school year with concerts, free food, and inflatables on Stine Lake.

It is a chance to finally take a break after a hard semester of classes and do all sorts of activities in the nice weather with your friends. In the past, the College has brought in popular musicians, from Sammy Adams to Travis Porter, and held a free concert for students.

I particularly enjoy this tradition because I love to hang out with my friends, enjoy food truck meals in the warm weather, and then jump into the inflatables—who doesn’t love a good bouncy house? Springfest is a great way to blow off steam in a commemorative last hurrah before finals begin in May.

Why college traditions matter

This blog post is only a sneak peek into Gettysburg College’s traditions because they hold different meanings to different students, each of which could have a different favorite. Traditions are a way of life here at Gettysburg, and they ensure that the legacies of community and togetherness are passed on to future generations.

From meeting lifelong friends at the First-Year Walk to the laughs shared around the table at Servo Thanksgiving, the traditions are what I will miss most after graduation because they helped shape my experience here—and they will do the same for you.

By Maddie Miller ’21
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and Phuong Le ’20
Posted: 03/03/21